2. The “Gauntlet”

2. The “Gauntlet”

You make the voyage to Lyrabar, the largest city in the feudal-state nation of Impiltur. Though you sign up early on Saturday for the monthly screening test (ominously termed “The Gauntlet”), you are informed your number will not be called until the morrow.

At two o’clock the next afternoon, a haggard clerk with a mug of some potent brew finally assembles your party. He leads you across the Order’s giant stone plaza and down some stairs to the underground levels. There, a series of stone doors set into a long wall evidence the starts of each Gauntlet “lane”; other teams of hopeful adventurers (and their grader) wait before most.

Ivan, your grader, takes you to Door 5. As he does so, he recites a memorized speech.

“I trust you read the Pre-Employment Assessment Agreement in full before signing it; if not, I’ll emphasize the most important parts:

  1. Take all directions from your grader. That’s me, by the way. Because I’m the one ultimately grading you both individually, and as a group, and it’s in your best interests to keep me happy. Got that?
  2. Do not stray beyond the limits of the course. I know those 15-foot walls look fun to vault over, but believe me–don’t. There’s some itchy spellcaster guards up there who haven’t had anything fun to do all weekend, and you would just make their day.
  3. Do not use any magic, for any reason whatsoever. I’ll say this again. Do not use any magic for any reason, whatsoever! If you’re trying to Detect Magic, tell me, and I’ll tell you what you see. If you need to cast a lightning bolt (god knows why), use one of the colored bean bags we gave you, and shout whatever you’re casting. Then I’ll tell you how many of your friends you just mucked.
  4. Do not destroy any of the course or the equipment we give you. Hey, I know what you’re thinking–it’s old, it’s made of wood, we’ll just grab some random cleric to cast Mend on it, right? Well guess what, that cleric is me, and if you can’t be bothered to take proper care of the things I hand you, I can’t be bothered to make these little tics in the right spots. You waste my time, I waste your time. Which brings me to the last point.
  5. Take all directions from your grader. I hope we’re all clear on that by now.

“Now I’ve been at this all weekend, and there’s another six groups coming right behind you, so let’s try to pick up the pace a bit, all right? Oh, and because I’m also required to say this, ‘have fun.’ “

The door to Gauntlet Lane 5 unlocks, and he extends his arm in front of him. It’s show time.

Character Level: 2
Stipulations: Starting equipment only + any proxies for adventuring gear requested at start
Session Date: November 11th, 2019

A. The Entrance Room

You step into an unadorned room that looks only recently hewn from the rock itself. On either side of you, paper armor and wooden weapons (wrapped in cloth) rest on wooden tables. These represent whatever non-magical adventuring gear you might normally choose for such a mission; be sure to stock up on these before you begin.

Across from you, a stone door stands closed. There are no handles, it lies flush with its frame, and any hinges are on its other side. On a pedestal directly before it, six tablets lie for inspection; spaces in the wall on either side the door appear large enough to accommodate these. Two statues also await your attention, in two corners on opposing sides.

Ivan pulls out his notes and begins to read.

“‘You now stand before the sealed doors to the forbidden tomb of ancient Lord Skellington, whose empire once–‘ blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda ‘–vast fortunes and wonders waiting for you in the innermost chambers. Do you dare seek your destiny?'”

Ivan then slouches against the wall behind him. “You’re free to ask me any questions, guys,” he says, between sips from his mug. “I might not answer them, but I just wanted to let you know you have that option.”

Who went out and forgot to lock this?

Three of the party had some training in the arcane, and they were able to decipher the runes as being written in a magical script. They were even able to confer on precisely what each rune meant and how it was commonly used in incantations; what confused them was Ivan’s insistence that nothing showed up when they cast Detect Magic.

While Grigori the dwarf wizard looked over the statues (noting that they could rotate in place), Nobu the Tabaxi rogue further examined the door for clues. He noted that not only were there no traps, but that one of the doors seemed to be ajar by half an inch. Taking out his ten-foot-pole (and advising the others to stand back), he carefully pushed at the door from a distance.

It swung easily open.

Ivan slapped his hands together in a loud clap. “BOOM!” he yelled. “Ha ha, just kidding. You guys are fine. You won’t believe how many groups get hung up on this first room. Kinda sad, really.”

He then led them through the doorway towards the next set of obstacles.

B. The Long Hallway

Ivan reads again from his stack of papers. “‘A long corridor stretches before you. The light wanes in this cloistered passageway, but you can still make out numerous traps and hazards awaiting the careless adventurer. How will you circumvent them safely?'”

The walls of the Gauntlet lane only reach 15 feet above you. Beyond that, in the darkness, you can just make out humanoid shapes waiting on platforms and crosswalks around the perimeter. Other graders, perhaps? Or assistants for tossing down obstacles upon you?

Dungeon Traps
All shapes and sizes, but all equally dangerous.

Carelessness will find no clemency in this place.

Though dim, the lighting in the lane was enough to make out four distinct sections of traps, back-to-back: a wall riddled with holes, a false floor, two tripwires, and two pressure plates in front of a dragon’s mouth. (The party gathered that they were not being tested on if they could find obstacles, so much as how well they could plan their way around them.)

Rock-in-Water the Tabaxi druid first scouted ahead, wild shaped as a small spider. As soon as she drew abreast of the holes, however, a padded glaive shot through and pinned her to the wall. “Kill it, kill it!” a human voice shouted, with a faux goblin accent. She was forced to return to safety in her non-wild-shaped form.

Shudder the half-elf sorceress then cast a Silent Image to test how many “goblins” were awaiting them. A resigned Ivan played the part of the Silent Image, meandering down the hall and grunting loudly whenever he was poked in the ribs.

“Oh, no, help. I’m being attacked. Ahh, ow. I know where you sleep, guys.”

Confirming that there was only one “goblin” per side, the party decided to parley. (Gorodash the orc paladin explained to the grader that he could speak goblinoid.) Learning that what the “goblins” wanted most was a “coffee break,” the party bargained with them, using rations from their sacks.

Ivan only rolled his eyes at the negotiations, finally allowing his associates to “take ten.” The party would be prodded no further.

Mage Hand does wonders for tripping off traps early.

The other three traps were easy enough to set off, thanks to Grigori’s Mage Hand. The false floor crumbled (revealing a padded 15-foot drop), the tripwires alerted assistants above to drop heavy sacks (“rocks”) onto the path, and the pressure plates caused the dragon head to blow out red streamers in their direction.

“Oh no,” Ivan noted aloud, “a horrible magical fire trap.”

Good thing we didn’t just toss these bags in that pit!

Rock-in-Water was able to take the water in her canteen and freeze it in the dragon’s mouth, which lasted just long enough for the rest of the party to slip by. They then used “rocks” from the cave-in to weigh down two more pressure plates at the end, forcing rows of floor spikes to retract. Finished, they finally followed Ivan into the third room.

C. The Bandit Camp

The third chamber you encounter stands in contrast to the previous two. Here, five other people await, lounging on balsa logs and stones. They perk up when they see you enter, moving to their feet and taking up fake weapons of their own–nets and crossbows, from what you see.

Ivan sets the scene: “‘You happen upon what appears to be a bandit camp in the middle of the dungeon. Whether they entered of their own volition or were instead carried here by some strange fell magic is unknown. What is apparent is that they do not seem friendly.'”

The one closest to you pulls out a script of his own and reads from it in a loud, stilted fashion.

“‘What ho, unwanted travelers! You have stumbled upon the camp of Jeremy, the Bandit King! Lay down your weapons, and we may yet show mercy!'”

Finished, “Jeremy” glances behind him at the four other costumed characters. They offer a few awkward yells, as punctuation.

Bandit Crew
A combination of (fake) nets and crossbows makes these a decent threat. (But remember, they’re just assistants in costume, so don’t actually hit them too hard.)

Stand and deliver, ruffians!

While Rock-in-Water wanted to parley with the “bandits” as well, Gorodash took the lead by assaulting their captain directly. His blows make audible thumping noises as they connected with the padding of Jeremy’s armor.

In return, the bandits threw a net over Gorodash. Taking advantage of his sudden immobility, they began pelting him with arrows.

The bandits were not push-overs (as a failed Sleep spell from Shudder quickly proved), but the adventurers worked together. While the wizard, sorcerer, and druid helped the riff-raff under control, Gorodash and Nobu took stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the captain.

Soon enough, Jeremy yelled “Good!” and took a knee, indicating that they’d done enough to fell him. With the defeat of their captain, the other bandits too threw down their weapons, indicating they’d not come here to die.

When pressed on their backstory, the bandits quickly checked their notes. Apparently, they’d happened upon the dungeon when they’d all fallen into a pit together. They’d only just set up camp and couldn’t inform the adventurers more about what lay ahead. Or so the script read.

Ow, ow, I take it back!

When asked, Ivan confirmed that the party could take a “short rest” if needed. He ticked a box on his sheets, declared the heroes “somewhat rested,” and said they could regain whatever spell slots or abilities were privy to such an action. Then, they tackled the next room.

D. The Dungeon Pool

The next chamber is dominated by a pit, lined with sand bags and burlap sacks to soften any falls. Two pedestals rise over the hazard, but they are only wide enough for a single person to stand on at one time.

Ivan reads: “‘Your way forward is now blocked by a fetid river of some foul liquid. You think you spy a way to safely reach the other side, but beware! Dark shapes move under the surface of the water.'”

WHAT HORRORS LIE BENEATH THESE “WAVES?”

Much like the long hallway, this room required a bit of pre-planning on the adventurer’s parts. While Gorodash was pretty confident that he could use the pedestals to simply leap across the gap, not all characters enjoyed his immense muscles.

Working together, Rock-in-Water (now in the form of a Giant Spider) first simply crawled along the wall to the far side of the pool. Then, she grabbed a 15-foot wooden plank there and maneuvered it to cover the distance from the far side to a pedestal in the center.

Using his prodigious strength, Gorodash then simply piggy-backed the rest of the party across–one at a time–easily making the initial leap to the pedestal and then running the rest of the way.

Wow, that Giant Spider wild shape came in really handy here.

As the party readied to exit the room, the burlap bags in the center of the pit shuffled aside. A man dressed in a large shark suit stood up from where he had been hiding. He seemed rather disappointed that no one had fallen in for him to harass, but the party complimented him on his very nice costume anyway.

Guy in a Shark Suit
I’m sure all he wanted was a great big hug…

E. The Treasure Room

Ivan flips to the last page of his notes and begins to read.

“‘At long last, you’ve found the famed treasure horde of Lord Skellington. The infamous character in question slumps upon a throne in the center of the room, his withered foot resting on a gilded treasure chest–‘”

Ivan paused in irritation, as a low but audible snore emanated from the costumed figure on the throne. Then, raising his voice, he finished his narrative.

“‘…and his trusty warhammer near his hand. Around the edge of the room, four shadowy figures stand guard. Are they only statues, or something more insidious?'”

Finished, he pockets his notes and stands idly. His eyes, on the other hand, stare silent daggers.

Lord Skellington
He is not dead, but only dreaming. I think.

Do liches dream of undead sheep?

A Detect Magic spell showed only the chest and the hammer to be enchanted. Cautiously moving about the room, the party took up positions surrounding the seated threat. Shudder even made sure Ivan knew that she was “readying an action” to cast Mind Spike if either the skeleton or the statues began to move.

However, when Nobu moved up from behind the throne and attempted to kick the hammer away, it rose suddenly into the air and swung back at the rogue!

Flying Warhammer
A good deal stronger than its cousin, the Flying Sword, this version has the ability to knock you back clear across the room…

Simultaneously, as Gorodash reached out to touch the skeletal lord, the chest itself turned and tried to bite him!

Animated Treasure Chest (Mimic mimic)
Hey! No tongue!

Punctuating the sudden turn of events were loud guffaws from Ivan. Still a little confused over the real threat, Gorodash punched his fist into the figure on the throne.

“Ow! What the hell!” the assistant exclaimed in surprise, falling out of the chair from the blow.

“I’m sorry,” Gorodash replied. “Aren’t you Lord Skellington?”

“Yes, but I just get paid to sit here!”

“Oh, that’s Dale,” Ivan interjected. “He’s not actually part of the challenge.” He smirked. “You can hit him again, though, if you want.”

“Goddammit, Ivan.”

Why is the treasure trying to eat me?

Once the true threats had been identified, it was not difficult to dispatch them. A couple quick strikes from the rogue, and the flying hammer clattered to the ground. Then, the rest of the party ganged up on the moving chest until Ivan was forced to intervene, to prevent any real damage from being done.

“‘Congratulations, you’ve successfully evaded the trials and tribulations of Lord Skellington and are privy to all the riches and wonders’–okay, skipping that, you passed, guys. And made my day, to be honest; not many of the parties make it to my favorite room.”

“Dammit, Ivan.” The figure on the throne still assuaged bruised ribs.

Ivan unlocked a door that led outside to another long hallway, and stairs to the surface. “Now, I’d love to stay and chat, but as I said, I have six more parties that still need to bumble their way through these challenges. You’ll get your scores from the head office. I might see you folks later. Or I might not.”

The five adventurers did not receive their results until the end of the day. However, much to their elation, they’d all passed with flying marks (along a note from their grader: “What can I say; they made me laugh”). As such, they were invited to sign a full, complete contract to enlist in their year-long training program. At the completion of said program (assuming they’d passed all their course objectives and breached no code of conduct), they would become fully commissioned agents in Torm’s Order of the Shining Blade.

The adventurers looked ahead to the future with bright optimism.